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From LPM Section Chair Tom Grella
I recently read the New York Times best-seller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is an excellent read as a work of historical significance, but also for the lessons that can be learned from Lincoln's team leadership, particularly the way he led the political rivals he appointed to his cabinet.
In reading Goodwin's book, I came to realize that Lincoln understood what it meant to be an effective team leader—or, as leadership expert John Maxwell puts it, a "velvet-covered brick" (see his "Maximum Impact Lessons," Vol. 11, No. 3). Maxwell is referring to the type of leaders who are both strong and determined, but who also put others at ease with their approachability. Here is how Maxwell defines the characteristics of good team leadership—and how Lincoln personified it:
· They appreciate the differences among all of the persons they lead. Goodwin portrays Lincoln in many different circumstances dealing with difficult colleagues, headstrong and set in their ways. Many came to his cabinet with very dissimilar views on the most divisive of issues, including slavery.
· They maintain a consistent mood. They don't allow the heat of the moment with respect to one person, or one issue, to improperly affect responses or reactions to others they lead. In many instances Lincoln began responding to the arrogance or error of his cabinet by writing scathing letters, only to hold on to them and never send them. Lincoln would also remove himself from situations that tempted him to act rashly, instead of taking the risk of giving into a mood swing.
· They are authentic to all of those they lead. This holds true even though such authenticity makes them vulnerable. Goodwin portrays Lincoln as having a dry but eloquent wit that he employed to defuse difficult and contentious confrontations. He would employ humor about himself to disarm detractors, even those on his own cabinet.
· They are willing to forgive and ask forgiveness (which assumes the ability to admit when one is wrong). Although Lincoln generally was able to keep himself from acting rashly or unfairly, Goodwin points out a few specific instances where he had made a decision in the heat of the moment, subsequently determined that he was wrong in his position, then went back and asked forgiveness of the one wronged.I believe that all managers and leaders of law firms and other legal organizations can benefit from understanding the above principles, as exemplified by Lincoln (who himself was a lawyer, as you'll recall). The Law Practice Management Section strives to put these principles to use as well. Our Section entities work collaboratively as teams, creating resources for lawyers such as this magazine, the Webzines, our book publishing program and educational programming, too. Our entity leaders endeavor to live the principles of "velvet-covered brick" leadership by being authentic and approachable to those they serve—the Section's membership. I hope you will feel free to approach any of us at any time with suggestions for ways we might improve our service to you.